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Olympics under pressure

Modern Olympics are too political and too commercial, according to Jeff Segrave, exercise-science professor and athletics director. A noted Olympics scholar, he provided commentary in newspapers and other media during the summer games in Athens. He says this year’s games were used to “advance the interests of an increasingly intertwined transnational bloc of financial, retail, tourism, and media interests.”

At their best, the Olympics represent “a brief, shining two weeks in which to gather in peace and understanding, with the hope of transcending the political, ethnic, and economic differences that separate us,” Segrave says. But he warns that those values, and the welfare of the athletes, are compromised by the commercial “juggernaut” that the games have become. For example, he cites the over-hyping of US swimmer Michael Phelps at the Athens games. It began when the Speedo swimsuit corporation offered Phelps $1 million if his performance could match the landmark 1972 achievements of Olympic phenom Mark Spitz. “The global media simply fed on the story,” Segrave says, and then the nineteen-year-old Phelps was unfairly and unkindly denigrated when he fell a bit short. And there was Iranian judo champ Arash Miresmaeili. He withdrew from the games altogether, by mandate of his government, as a public protest against his matchup with an Israeli opponent. “Like other athletes before him, Miresmaeili was forced to sacrifice his career and athletic ambitions for a political cause,” laments Segrave.

“I am still convinced that the Olympics offer us something of immense global importance—a symbol of hope in a world that desperately needs it,” he says. But “under the rule of big politics and big business, this lofty goal is impossible to achieve.” —SR